Book of books – Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk


As explained in the introduction this is by a Russian author Nikolai Leskov who is not too well known because his work was not only censored but it seemed to have been overlooked by quite a few people and then was seen as unfashionable. As the introduction points out that is a shame because he is a voice that has something to say and his writing deserves to be appreciated by a wider audience.

Plot summary
The main character of Katerina Lvnova is married to a rich merchant and lives with him and her father-in-law. Her life is one of complete boredom and in a period when both her husband and father-in-law are away trying to repair a mill she is seduced by the steward Sergei who hopes to use her to become rich. The first barrier is the father-in-law who finds them together and is poisoned by Katerina. Then the husband returns and is killed by the pair of them and buried in the cellar. After those two killings they think they have the estate but a child heir with a half share emerges and so they silence him through suffocation but are seen in the act and a mob catches them. In prison and then on the way to penal servitude in Siberia Katerina only dreams of Sergei but he finds another lover on the long march to Siberia and in a moment of madness/revenge as the prisoners cross the Volga in a ferry Katerina grabs her rival and drowns her and herself.

Is it well written?
The story runs pretty quickly and there are some moments when you wish there could have been more description but it seems to hope from murder to murder. The most emotive bit is at the end when Katerina feels wronged and then the moment when she drags her rival to the depths is incredibly powerful. But you are left with too many questions. For instance you don’t get too much of an insight into why Sergei changes his attitude to Katerina other than thumbnail sketches a sort of dot-to-dot of lust, murder, bitterness and then the conclusion.

Should it be read?
If you were going to read a Russian author it would not be Leskov because there are so many other greats that are already recognised. That said it might be unfair to avoid it but it certainly would not be the first stop before Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Pushkin and Oblomov, and that’s just for starters. Read it at some point though to see what Lady Macbeth transported to Russia looks and feels like.

Leads to
Probably more Russian authors including some of those listed above.

Version read – Hesperus paperback

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